Roger Stone’s lawyers object to playing ‘Godfather’ clip at trial

By Darren Samuelsohn

Roger Stone’s lawyers asked a federal judge on Friday to put the kibosh on government prosecutors’ plans to show jurors a clip from “The Godfather, Part II” during the longtime Donald Trump associate’s trial later this fall.

In an 11-page brief, Stone’s attorneys argue “the iconic Mafia film of our era” has no place in a courtroom where it could leave jurors with the impression their client committed far more egregious crimes than the ones he’s charged with — lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstruction of justice.

“Any reference to ‘The Godfather‘ (regardless of which one) brings up a clear and unalienable connection to the Italian-American Mafia,” the Stone lawyers wrote. “Any attempts to compare the conduct of Stone to that of an alleged mafia member, testifying that he murdered on the orders of ‘the Godfather’ will instantly create a connection in the minds of the jurors that Stone is somehow similar to a murderous mafioso.”

“This is an inescapable connection that is undoubtedly an improper use of character evidence and is highly prejudicial to the defendant. Once the door is opened with a movie clip, which no doubt will accompany an explanation of why it is being played, the trial detours to a Mafia trial and Stone’s connection to it, with all of its history and folklore,” they added.

Justice Department attorneys who inherited the Stone case from special counsel Robert Mueller asked U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson last month for permission to show a four-minute scene from the 1974 film during the trial — which is slated to begin Nov. 5 in Washington, D.C. — because it adds “important context” to the allegations against the defendant for witness tampering.

In the clip, a character named Frank Pentangeli backtracks from delivering blockbuster testimony to Congress about the Corleone crime family. Stone mentioned the scene in text messages to Randy Credico, a witness in the Mueller probe who had been questioned in the investigation about his contacts with both Stone and WikiLeaks, the online platform that published stolen Democratic emails during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Mueller’s indictment accuses Stone of threatening Credico and his pet dog in a text message, and he also urges Credico to “do a Frank Pentangeli.”

Stone for months has been arguing that the messages to Credico weren’t intended to be taken seriously, and his lawyers on Friday said the request to show jurors the movie clip amounted to a “stunt.” They note that Credico is a comedian who is known for his impression of Pentangeli.

But more than anything, they argue the clip’s design is “to inflame the jury with threatening Mafia references.” They also include, in a footnote defending their case, a report from the Italian Institute of America citing FBI statistics from 2009 showing “only 0.00782 percent of Italian-Americans possessed any criminal associations.”

“And yet, according to a national Zogby poll, 74 percent of the American public believed that Italian-Americans have ties to the mob,” they wrote.

Friday brought a volley of other motions and briefs ahead of the Stone trial.

In one filing, Stone’s lawyers told Jackson they do not “intend at this point” to make an issue during trial of his arrest by federal agents who used “unnecessary and excessive force.” But they also said they weren’t ruling out other topics they may raise at trial, including why Mueller didn’t pursue allegations that members of the House violated their own rules when questioning other witnesses, which they say “would legitimately cast aspersions on the prosecution’s decision-making in deciding to prosecute Stone.”

A government motion, meantime, offered more substantive reasoning for why it objects to Stone’s lawyers trying to introduce any evidence at trial related to Russia’s role in the Democratic hacks in 2016. Stone has signaled the congressional probe he’s accused of lying to was based on a faulty premise that Russia even played a role in the hacks — a point that DOJ counters has nothing to do with the charges Stone faces in his own trial.

“It would create a vast mini-trial within a trial on issues that are tangential to the charges, thus requiring significant trial time and risking jury confusion and unfair prejudice with collateral but highly complex issues,” the assistant U.S. attorneys leading the case, Jonathan Kravis and Michael Marando, wrote in their opposition brief.